Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Payback puzzle - Pinnock reimbursed thousands of US dollars in questionable spending

Published:Saturday | January 18, 2020 | 12:39 AM
Caribbean Maritime University President Fritz Pinnock (left) and then principal of Jamaica College, Ruel Reid, in November 2011. The headmaster-turned-education minister was sacked last year amid corruption allegations.
Caribbean Maritime University President Fritz Pinnock (left) and then principal of Jamaica College, Ruel Reid, in November 2011. The headmaster-turned-education minister was sacked last year amid corruption allegations.

In the latest revelation from a special audit of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), President Fritz Pinnock was found to have been reimbursed for fixed assets costing US$12,697.41 that were reportedly purchased on behalf of the university.

Among the items for which the university repaid sums to Pinnock were: one bracelet, two sunglasses, perfumes, and Baileys rum cream, one cuff link, and four colognes.

The fixed assets for which the CMU reimbursed the institution’s president included tablets and recorders, Apple watch, MacBook, Microsoft Surface Pro, two laptops, and a cell phone.

However, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said that there was no record of the items being included in CMU’s fixed assets register. Additionally, the assets were not presented by the CMU for the Auditor General’s Department to inspect and verify.

In a staggering revelation, Monroe Ellis said that the CMU also failed to provide auditors from her department with supporting documentation to substantiate 14 reimbursements to the president amounting to US$117,785.03 from the institution’s US-dollar account and J$2,229,362.21 from one canteen account, during the period December 2016 to March 2019.

“CMU provided us with expense statements from the president to support eight reimbursements (in the sum of) US$32,028.47 and J$725,510.18, without any invoices or bills to support these statements for us to verify the authenticity of the reimbursements,” the auditor general noted.

In another disclosure, the auditor general reported that Pinnock submitted a reimbursement claim to the CMU totalling J$546,153.84 (US$4,275) for hotel accommodations for himself, the then chief education officer, Dr Grace McLean, and the assistant chief education officer for a trip to Cuba in February 2018.

The auditor general said that her department could not determine the basis on which the payment was made, given that the ministry had provided the officers with per diem totalling US$6,580 to cover accommodation, meals and incidental costs.

“We found no evidence that the certifying and authorising officers validated the legitimacy of the request prior to funds being reimbursed,” the auditor general declared.

Monroe Ellis indicated that subsequent to her department’s draft report, the beleaguered president scrambled to repay US$3,420.00 on August 21, 2019, to the CMU, representing the accommodation for the then chief education officer and her assistant.

“We also noted that the president repaid a further US$1,340 on August 23, 2019, for per diem initially received from the ministry.”

In yet another reimbursement saga, over a two-year period spanning June 2016 to June 2018, the CMU paid back the president for items costing US$2,380.44.

PROCUREMENT METHODOLOGY

A review of the supporting documents, including the attached expense statement seeking reimbursements, indicated that the payments were for tokens given to officials at various meetings and workshops.

However, the team of auditors who watch over the public purse said that they were unable to determine the recipients of the tokens, as the CMU did not document the distribution of the gifts to allow for audit trail.

The auditor general said that the Government’s purchasing process requires that each procurement activity be based on the need for the goods or services, documented in a procurement plan. Following this, the appropriate procurement methodology must be used to determine the best price and quality, after which the purchasing process would be initiated by the responsible officer.

In all instances, the CMU indicated that the president used his personal credit card to make purchases and, as such, was reimbursed. However, the auditors said that they saw no evidence of the charges to the president’s credit card.

“All reimbursements were approved jointly by either the president, the deputy president, chairman of the finance committee, and the vice-president for advancement and development, and then checked by the treasurer,” the auditor general pointed out.

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